Acoustic reduction and the roles of abstractions and exemplars in speech processing

Ernestus, M. (2014). Acoustic reduction and the roles of abstractions and exemplars in speech processing. Lingua, 142, 27-41. doi:10.1016/j.lingua.2012.12.006.
Acoustic reduction refers to the frequent phenomenon in conversational speech that words are produced with fewer or lenited segments compared to their citation forms. The few published studies on the production and comprehension of acoustic reduction have important implications for the debate on the relevance of abstractions and exemplars in speech processing. This article discusses these implications. It first briefly introduces the key assumptions of simple abstractionist and simple exemplar-based models. It then discusses the literature on acoustic reduction and draws the conclusion that both types of models need to be extended to explain all findings. The ultimate model should allow for the storage of different pronunciation variants, but also reserve an important role for phonetic implementation. Furthermore, the recognition of a highly reduced pronunciation variant requires top down information and leads to activation of the corresponding unreduced variant, the variant that reaches listeners’ consciousness. These findings are best accounted for in hybrids models, assuming both abstract representations and exemplars. None of the hybrid models formulated so far can account for all data on reduced speech and we need further research for obtaining detailed insight into how speakers produce and listeners comprehend reduced speech.
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